Trey’s dad picked us up in a 1980s blue Volvo diesel four door sedan with sheepskin seat covers. Trey’s dad had curly black-gray hair and a full beard. He was very gruff, and I was somewhat frightened by him and I didn’t like to talk to him. I let Trey do the talking.
“Dad, you’re being hella wack. Seth’s staying at Joe’s house too…”
Trey’s father consented, grumbling.
Treys dad dropped us off at my mom’s house. My father had recently died and my mom had been a tad bit out of sorts ever since. She was very excited to have us boys over for a sleep over, though.
It was still fairly early in the evening and she piled us all into my dad’s 1991 Buick LeSabre. Its maroon leather interior was beyond luxurious. Each plush bucket seat had its own electronic controls and separate climate control, a rarity even in the year 2001 a decade after the car had rolled off the lot. The back seat might as well have been a living room couch for how soft and spacious its leather pillow-top seats were.
My mom drove us to the now-defunct BLOCKBUSTER video across from the University Village. She waited in the car and sent us in with cash to rent ourselves a movie. We roamed the store for a good 30 minutes arguing over titles before we finally decided on the gross-out comedy flick “Road Trip.”
Back at home, my mom was even nice enough to order us two pizzas and sodas from Pizza Hut. We had ordered Pizza Hut so often in the months since my dad had died I think we were on a first name basis with every employee, manager on down, at the Pizza Hut on 65th.
Our plan was to enjoy the pizza and the movie, then sneak out the “purgatory” doors on the side of my house. The doors had been intended to lead on to a deck my dad never had a chance to build before he died. The doors instead opened onto a five-foot drop into my back yard. My mom was usually out like a light before 9:00, so we would have no trouble sneaking out.
Something had gotten into my mother that night, though, and she sat up late typing some sort of diatribe or another on the computer. After Road Trip was finished we had to pick a movie I already owned and watched most of that before she finally called it a night.
Once we were sure she was asleep, we busted out our ill-gotten supplies and laid them out guerilla style on the floor of my living room, divvying up the paint and the mops and the markers between the three of us.
One by one we lowered ourselves into the backyard, leaving the “purgatory’ doors open a crack so that we would be able to let ourselves back in later.
It was cold. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up against the chill. I still shivered, not because I was cold, but because I was excited. The streets were ours. We walked in silence past the blocks of residential houses till we hit 65th street, the busiest and closest commercial street to my house.
We went behind the old PCC (now Third Place Books) and Seth painted a full color piece on the large double doors of the loading dock, Trey and I keeping an eye out. From there we walked down to Bagel Oasis, liberally applying our tags to whatever we fancied.
We went behind the Bagel Oasis. There I painted my first fill-in on one of their delivery vans. I was such a novice, I didn’t realize you were supposed to do the fill-in first and then the outline. I had painted the outline in black, then tried to do the fill-in with blue like I was coloring the lines inside a coloring book. it ended up looking like a horrendous blue black blob that may or may not have said “XIN” even though i was trying to write “KIN.”
Trey and Seth then painted two fill-ins of their own on the stucco walls of a parking garage adjacent to the truck i had just painted. We emerged back onto 65th near to the ancient rug shop.
The truck parked outside was tagged, but not to the extent it is now. They still would make halfhearted attempts to buff it every couple of months. There was still some blank white space on the side of the truck for me to catch a tag on. Trey and Seth stood on the sidewalk while I stood in the street tagging the side of the van facing away from the wall (so people driving by could see it).
A cop car whipped around the corner. It had been driving with all its lights off, but then its headlights and flashers came to life, tires came screeching to a halt directly behind me. Trey and Seth ran. I stood frozen with fear, in the cop’s spotlight.
In retrospect we had probably attracted hella attention on ourselves by acting suspiciously, wearing hooded sweatshirts and backpacks. That alone would probably have elicited 911 calls from the concerned Seattleites of Ravenna.
Not to mention the graffiti. If someone had seen us doing that they would have definitely approached us, cell phone in hand and would have attempted to detain us till the police arrived. “Heros”.
The cop had probably been looking for us.
As soon as the cop had stopped, he was out of his car and had me by the collar. He soon had my hands on the trunk. I guess I was lucky I didn’t have to put them on the hot hood, but that was the farthest thing from my mind at that point.
He had the contents of my backpack emptied out on the trunk: markers and spray paint. I was still wearing the paint-stained gloves that I had worn for the sole purpose of not having paint on my hands should I be stopped by the police. I felt like the world’s biggest moron. At the same time, I had never been so afraid in my life.
The cop asked me about my friends.
“I don’t know what friends you’re talking about.”
I’m pretty sure it was not very convincing.
At this point he handcuffed me and put me in the backseat. Once the door shut I started to have a full blown panic attack, complete with OCD and Asperger’s/Tourette’s body movements and babbling nonsensical swear words at random, which I am prone to do in moments of extreme stress (although I’ve gotten better at controlling it with age).
The cop looked at me weird over his shoulder and said, “Jesus H. Christ kid, what kind of drugs are you on? Are you on speed? Are you on acid?”
I said “Drugs? Drugs???? Fuck no! I don’t do drugs. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. I’m fucked. My life is over. Fuck my life. i am so dead, fuck, fuck, i’m mother fucked in the fucking fuck fuck…”
“You look like you could use some, you fucking wierdo.”
He kept asking me questions. All I gave him was my name and address, ‘cause I figured I had no other options, I was 13 or 14. I felt like a POW in a old war movie
I still maintained that I did not know what friends he was speaking of, all while continuing to twitch and curse spastically in the backseat of the cop car.
He drove the three blocks to my house. Parking his car in the alley, he didn’t turn off his flashing lights- how embarrassing. He marched me up to the front door in handcuffs and with one hand on around the back of my neck he pounded on the door.
My mother, in the wake of my father’s death, had been prescribed numerous pharmaceuticals to keep her from freaking the fuck out. Chief among them was Xanax, of which she imbibed liberally before bed. Safe to say she was a heavy sleeper.
The cop and I stood at the door for five minutes while he kept knocking at thirty second intervals before the light in my mother’s bedroom turned on. I could hear her make her way to the door, imagining her pulling her bathrobe over her nightgown and tying it shut as she walked.
She didn’t open the door.
“Who is it? Do you have any idea what time it is??”
“Seattle Police ma’am, i have your son here.”
“B.S., my son’s asleep with his friends in the living room.”
“Ma’am, I stopped your son tagging up a truck on 65th.”
“How do I know you are who you say you are and not a rapist or a robber?”
The cop began to speak but I interrupted him. “Mom, it’s me open the door.”
And she did.
Trey and Seth (who obviously had managed to make it back to the house safely and unnoticed) were roused from their sleeping bags by the cop. He talked to us and my mom for a little while and then he left. He told my mom and us that a detective would be by to all our houses to talk to our parents.
It was all my fault, and even though I had not told on my friends my incompetence had landed them in hot water with me.
At school on Monday, I tried to talk to Seth in the main hallway before class.
“Don’t talk to me, keep your fat fucking mouth shut, you FAG!” He said before turning and walking away from me. I wanted to die.
That day after school things got worse. I had spent every day since the arrest confined to my room. Around 5 p.m. I was chilling on my bed with my Discman listening to Wu Tang’s “Enter the 36 Chambers” feeling hella sorry for myself. Staring at the ceiling. Then I heard a knock at the door. it was a polite but firm knock. My mom answered the door.
Ten minutes later I was sitting with my mom in our “fancy” front living room we rarely used, with the Seattle Police Graffiti detective, Rod Hardon. Yeah, they had a guy who worked full time on that. I know it sounds ridiculous.
I remember he was wearing faded black Levis and a rough suede greyish black jacket. He was middle aged with white gray hair. I remember thinking he looked a little bit faggy, in all honesty, because his appearance was so meek and frail.
He looked more like a soccer dad than a cop, if it weren’t for the badge on his belt and the handcuffs in their leather case. I didn’t see a gun; I don’t know if graffiti detectives carry guns.
He really wanted to know about a graffiti crew called NOK, which stands for No One Knows, I would come to find out in later. Ironically, I didn’t know either. I honestly had no idea who they were either. So even if I was a tattle tale I would have had nothing to say to Detective Hardon.
He told my mom that I was a gang member (What the hell?), that the majority of graffiti “taggers” were white males in their teens to mid twenties with low self esteem who skateboarded, that there’s no such thing as good graffiti, a legal wall just attracts more graffiti, All graffiti was bad graffiti. He gave us the contact info for property owners of the places we tagged. Told us we would have to contact them and buff the graffiti for them. Other than that I (and my friends) got off with just a warning and a day of physical labor.
Before he left he asked me “Do you have a book you practice your graffiti in, a sketchbook, sometimes known as a black book?”
“No sir, I don’t.”
My Mom interrupted. “JOEY!!! You have a book just like that hidden in the back of your closet, I saw it when i was hanging your clothes up.”
My mom ratted me out and fetched the book out of my closet and handed it over to Detective Hardon before he left, politely declining coffee from my mom. Why did she have to be so nice to him?
I would find out later that Seth’s mom had not even let Detective Hardon in her house, and had spoken with him briefly on the porch, sarcastically referring to him as “Officer Friday” to his face. I was hella jealous.
The social shunning at school persisted for a few weeks. I walked home from school alone walking a route that avoided contact with any of my friends. Then the day came to buff the graffiti. I thought we were just going to bang the thing out in thirty minutes with roller paint, no sweat. The property owners had something else in mind.
They equipped us with steel wool, buckets of water, and “Bon Ami” all purpose cleaner. We were instructed to remove as much of the paint as we could by scrubbing, and then one of their employees would paint over it. We were there all day till dusk,our finger tips raw. The walls really looked like shit now, but that was ok ‘cause they would paint over that.
By the end of the first hour of scrubbing, Seth and Trey had stopped shunning me and we were quietly cracking jokes throughout the hellish day. it felt so good to have my homies back. it was the only part about that day I was stoked on. The rest of the day sucked. Bad.
Although we were technically not supposed to hang out, we still did at school and I started walking home with Seth again although we had completely chilled out on the graffiti aspect of our extracurricular lives.
The cure took for Seth. He lost complete interest in graffiti. He was still down with stealing and being a devious bastard, but he just stopped caring about graffiti. He was smart enough to see that it gave him no solid reward and was wrought with risk.
I, on the other hand, never lost interest in it for a second.